Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Kiss And Kill by Richard Deming (Zenith Books ZB-36) (1960)

Experienced confidence trickster Sam Carter meets young would-be grifter Mavis Train at the Beverly-Wilshire hotel. Rapidly realising that the inexperienced woman is just who he needs to con an older woman, he takes her under his wing for a series of cons. However, Sam is a spendthrift who rapidly burns through the money he makes and realises he needs to make bigger scores. So, after marrying Mavis, he sets his sights on lonely women in search of marriage and plans to relieve them of their funds and leave no trace behind. The cons now involve Mavis posing as Sam's sister, but they also turn deadly as they also involve murdering the hapless women who fall for Sam's charms, with the killings staged as accidents to allay suspicion. Repeatedly changing their identities and moving around the country, the couple soon have a murderous template established, but have they been careful enough?...

Clearly based on the case of the real-life "Lonely Hearts Killers" Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck - who were also the subject of the films The Honeymoon Killers and Deep Crimson - this is a fast-paced and gripping read; albeit one with a sting in the tail that I saw coming several pages from the end. Hard-bitten and hard-boiled, the 160 pages turn rapidly as the dark tale unfolds, with characters, situation and place economically evoked as the story barrels along in a manner reminiscent of the best of Harry Whittington and Gil Brewer. This is the type of paperback original with barely a word wasted that epitomises an almost vanished narrative style, and is one that a lot of overwritten and overwrought contemporary genre fiction could learn from. Therefore, it is highly recommended to fans of period hardboiled paperback originals; as this is what they were all about at their best.

AFTERWORD: Most of what I know about author Richard Deming, I know from the fantastic reference guide Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers Of The Paperback Era by Brian Ritt (Stark House Press, 2013). Although I was previously aware of his series character Manville "Manny" Moon, a private detective who occasionally featured in the pages of the crime digests like Manhunt, and the Mike Shayne and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, and I also own some other Deming books I have yet to read (I own a LOT of books I have yet to read!), I was not previously aware of his many pseudonyms and short stories. Based on the entry in Paperback Confidential, it appears that Deming may be better known today (if at all) for the many TV tie-in paperbacks written under his own name and the pseudonym Max Franklin for such shows as Starsky And Hutch, Charlie's Angels and Vegas.

However, based on this wonderfully entertaining literary jab to the solar plexus, I should get started on the other Deming books I own; and you should certainly get started with this one. I don't think you'll be disappointed and, based on a current internet search, there are a few reasonably priced copies of this one - and other Deming titles - available; although the UK Digit Books edition of Kiss and Kill (R438) shown above, and from the same publication year, seems to be a tougher edition to find.